Last year confirmed one of the undeniable truisms of sports television: Hate sells.
NBA viewership rose mightily in 2010-11 on both ESPN and TNT, thanks in large part to the interest in the Miami Heat. But let's be frank: Viewers enjoyed rooting against LeBron James, and did so in large numbers.
TNT had a 45 percent increase in viewership from the previous year, drawing an average of 2.45 million viewers over 52 games compared to 1.73 million viewers over 53 games in 2009-10, according to
NBA games on ABC and ESPN garnered more viewers. According to
Christmas Day has often marked the beginning of heavy TV interest in the NBA, so don't expect the lockout to dramatically affect ratings negatively. In fact, the uncertainty and player movement is likely to draw added eyeballs on opening day.
While the focus will be on the those on the court, we're here to offer the scouting report on those who will bring you the game, including arguably the biggest NBA free agent this offseason: Shaquille O'Neal, who is now a member of TNT's
Here is SI.com's NBA broadcasting guide for the 2011-12 season:
ESPN will air 90 games this season, including 15 exclusive broadcasts on ABC (all ESPN telecasts will also be available via ESPN3.com). ESPN Radio will broadcast 24 regular-season games, while ESPN Deportes, ESPN's Spanish-language U.S. sports network, will televise 19 games. The Heat (16), Bulls (15), Lakers (15), Celtics (14), Knicks (14) and Mavericks (12) have the most appearances on ABC and ESPN combined. ESPN will air the Eastern Conference finals and ABC will broadcast the NBA Finals. Worth noting is games airing on ABC are subject to flexible scheduling.
1. Mike Breen (play-by-play), Jeff Van Gundy (analyst), Doris Burke (reporter).
"We wanted to get Magic more involved in our shows on a regular basis, and in order to fit his schedule [Johnson is based in L.A.], we said why not move out there," said senior vice president and executive producer Mark Gross, who has been charged with the network's NBA coverage. "It gives us much better access to players who might be in town on a travel day and stars who are big NBA fans. It felt right to take advantage of what California has to offer."
Hannah Storm and Stuart Scott have exited as pregame hosts. Instead, ESPN will have Barry, Broussard, Johnson and Wilbon in a free-flowing format, without a set host. While ESPN executives claim this isn't a direct response to TNT's
"We are kind of thinking, 'Do we really need a traditional host for this show? Can't it be these four guys talking about the NBA like they would be talking about the NBA in the hallway or over dinner?' " Gross said. "We are taking a chance and trying something different from most of our shows. In this case, our thinking is these guys talk so well and are well-versed in the league, we think we can get from topic to topic."
The game coverage also has a major shift with Mark Jackson leaving to become Golden State's coach. That leaves Breen and Van Gundy to carry the majority of discussion about league-wide issues.
"I'm one of those who enjoyed the three-man booth more than doing the two," Van Gundy said. "I really don't know going forward if ESPN/ABC has plans to fill Mark's spot or just leave it as is. Even though there will be more time available to talk, I just don't want to talk for the sake of talking. I want to make sure I don't throw too many hare-brained ideas out there. I don't want to just fill time."
ESPN officials said the new format allows for increased interaction with fans via social media, as commentators will answer fans' questions submitted from sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The game-announcing crew remains first-rate. Breen and Van Gundy are a terrific listen, and the same goes for Tirico and Brown. Burke is a valuable commodity in that she excels as both an analyst or sideline reporter. Salters, who has a hard news background, thankfully avoids the enabling questions viewers too often get from sideline people.
ESPN has high hopes for Johnson, but while he's one of the most likable guys in basketball and a great ambassador for the sport, he's an average analyst (at best) with a below-average voice. It doesn't help that Wilbon genuflects at his presence nearly every time they are together on air. Adande, Bucher and Stein are well-sourced and good at what they do. It's always great when Brown and Jack Ramsay are part of the same broadcast on ESPN Radio. It's like a doctoral seminar on hoops.
TNT will air 45 games this season, including 44 in prime time, with 32 part of a Thursday-night doubleheader. The network will feature 10 appearances each by the Celtics and Lakers, and nine by the Heat. The Mavericks and Knicks have eight scheduled appearances. TNT will also air All-Star weekend, including the All-Star Game on Feb. 26 from Orlando. TNT has the Western Conference finals this year.
1. Marv Albert (play-by-play), Steve Kerr (analyst), Craig Sager (reporter).
"We don't go into this show with any 'this is your role, this is your role, etc.,' " said Jeff Behnke, the senior vice president and executive producer for Turner Sports. "Our producer, Tim Kiely, brings the guys in about 15 minutes before air and they don't know what the format of the show is except for Ernie. That's the way we have done it from Day 1. It will be the same approach for Shaq. We will let Shaq be who he is and tap into his knowledge and success and entertainment value. There is no pre-decided role."
In an attempt to fuse social media into the broadcast and take advantage of O'Neal's huge Twitter following, the
"We have assigned a production assistant that we are calling the 'Twitter PA' to monitor everything going on in the social media world," Behnke said.
The league-owned network (now in 55.3 million homes) will air 96 live games this season. The Thunder are scheduled to make seven appearance, the Mavericks six, the Knicks five and the Lakers four. With NBA TV's